WSU gearing up for approaching wintry season

Truck fitted with a snow plow blade and de-icer.
More than two dozen full‑time and seasonal employees work throughout the winter months to make the Pullman campus as accessible as possible in the face of severe weather.

It’s only a matter of time before snow and ice blankets Washington State University’s campuses.

Fortunately for students, faculty and staff, a dedicated Facilities Services team will tackle whatever the winter season brings as they did prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Our crews take a lot of pride in keeping campus streets, roads, and sidewalks cleared,” Kate Kamerrer, executive director of finance, business and building services for facilities service, said. “They take pride in keeping things open, and work toward a goal of never having to close down campus due to weather.”

The decision to delay or cancel classes falls to each campus’ leadership. A team comprised of facilities, transportation and public safety officials meet ahead of anticipated storms to evaluate current or future conditions to determine whether to modify operations.

Bill Gardner, chief of the WSU Police Department, said that after considering conditions on the ground and reports from the National Weather Service, a recommendation is made to a campus chancellor.

“What we are evaluating is whether or not we have the capacity to operate on campus,” Gardner said.

While travel conditions are considered, university leaders cannot determine the safety of each individual’s journey to campus. All WSU students, faculty and staff should consider their own commutes and prepare for conditions appropriately.  Human Resource Services’ inclement weather FAQ delves into options for employees who can’t travel to a worksite due to wintry conditions, among other topics.

Each campus operates its own alerts page that members of their respective community should regularly monitor:

Additionally, if class schedules are altered or operations suspended due to weather, affected community members will receive calls, texts or emails.

Crews on the Pullman campus regularly begin clearing roads and parking lots at 4 a.m. each day, though it can be earlier depending on the weather. Whereas several parking lots remained snow covered throughout the year due to the pandemic keeping students and employees at home, snow removal efforts will return to their levels immediately prior to the pandemic.

WSU Pullman has about a dozen employees clearing streets and lots using heavy equipment. Another 16 grounds crew are tasked with mostly hand shoveling sidewalks and stairs. Dozens of custodial workers are also responsible for helping to clear building entryways, and even more facilities staff are available for the worst winter weather events.

“We’ve got some excellent contingency planning that enables us to get more people outside helping as needed, including waste management staff and maintenance mechanics,” Kamerrer said.

WSU’s last snow day came in February 2020. As Gardner recalls, weather forecasts called for a significant winter storm. Making the situation extra stressful was the fact that many counties as well as the state had already parked their snowplow equipment for the season.

The afternoon before the storm was expected to begin, Gardner recommended campuses be closed the next day. Ultimately, the storm was a bust. Ironically, Gardner said he received much more positive feedback for an unnecessary cancellation than he typically does when severe weather necessitates closure.

“That decision brought the nicest comments, where people were saying that they know we missed on the snow, but they were glad to get the advanced notice and be able to make proactive moves.”

For more information on WSU’s inclement weather planning, visit the WSU Police website.

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